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Cartoon v. human being

A seasonal meditation

You’ve probably seen my article, Satan orders man to kill birthers, by now. It was one of those National Enquirer-style articles with the most sensational headline I could make. It was originally published in my Wild & Wacky category. The article included a most un-flattering photo of Adam Cox (now replaced), the Tennessee man who made a number of death threats on a birther blog, aimed at Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona and some other prominent birthers. I highlighted the mention of “Satan” for a sensationalist effect.

Then something happened: Adam Cox commented on the article here. Suddenly the cartoon Adam Cox in the article became the real human being Adam Cox. Panic! What had I said? Besides treating something serious (a death threat) like a tabloid story, I don’t think I mislead anyone or tried to make anyone view Cox any more negatively than they would from any other presentation of the same facts. I was off the hook. Still, that moment of panic is instructive.

I’ve had the opportunity to shake hands with Dean Haskins and Christopher Stunk, and I have at least been in the room with other birthers, notably Orly Taitz [I subsequently spoke on the phone with Taitz]. That experience makes them less like cartoons and more like people too.

The online medium is essentially different from real life in that online exchanges lack social cues – facial expressions, tone of voice – that let us know when we’re going too far. It’s easy for emails  exchanges spiral out of control, but it is even easier to say things one shouldn’t when we don’t even expect the targets of our speech to read it.

When we write something online it probably bears remembering that our family and friends may see it, our boss and co-workers may see it, the person we’re writing about may see it, and should we someday run for President, the whole world may see it.

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11 Responses to Cartoon v. human being

  1. avatar
    Keith March 18, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    Well said.

    I hope I have been improving along these lines in my own comments.

    I have even noticed myself being civil to most of the cartoons on Above Top Secret, a major accomplishment for me I think.

  2. avatar
    veritas March 18, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    [This comment and responses to it are deleted as off topic and a thread hijack. Doc.]

  3. avatar
    Joe Acerbic March 18, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    Do you think if you shook hands with Rudy “The Executioner”, could he seem like people?

  4. avatar
    US Citizen March 18, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    Excellent post, Doc!
    Thank you.

  5. avatar
    RuhRoh March 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    While I get the point you are trying to make, Doc, I don’t feel that what I or you said was over the top regarding Mr. Cox.

    If his threats had been, as he portrays them, innocuous, he would not have been convicted. So don’t keep yourself up too many nights wondering if you were too harsh in depicting his case of threats of violence and murder. I certainly shall not.

  6. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    I don’t know that I would call it over the top either.

    RuhRoh: While I get the point you are trying to make, Doc, I don’t feel that what I or you said was over the top regarding Mr. Cox.

  7. avatar
    RuhRoh March 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    Doc, I do appreciate that you update articles when you feel that you have either [misrepresented] something or [because] new information has become available.

    In this case the new information, while helpful, does not change my [initial] assessment of the story. Cox openly threatened several people’s lives. He said it was for a larger goal of provoking a civil war at the direction of a [voice] in his head (Satan) [and with] the goal of causing the deaths of a majority of Americans. A court found these threats to be credible enough to [convict] him and psychotic enough to sentence him to some sort of psychiatric therapy.

    Cox is not mentally healthy at this point. He did threaten people’s lives. He was seditious in his actions. He was convicted in a court of law.

    The basic facts were correct all along. I will not lose a moment’s sleep, and neither should you.

    [FIFY. Doc]

  8. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

    There are two fundamental errors here. First no one convicted Cox of anything; he plead guilty. Second, he plead guilty to a harassment charge. There was no admission or finding that the threats were credible.

    See:

    http://www.wbir.com/news/article/202819/2/Knox-man-pleads-guilty-to-threatening-Arizona-sheriff

    RuhRoh: A court found these threats to be credible enough to [convict] him and psychotic enough to sentence him to some sort of psychiatric therapy.

  9. avatar
    veritas March 18, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    veritas: [This comment and responses to it are deleted as off topic and a thread hijack. Doc.]

    good call

  10. avatar
    G March 19, 2012 at 1:04 am #

    I agree with everything you just said, RuhRoh.

    There is no justifiable excuse for the initial threats and stated reason of wanting to start a War.

    What Mr. Cox has offered, and I give him credit for doing so, is both an explanation for his bad and irresponsible behavior and a statement full of regret, contrition and desire to get help for his problems.

    Explanations are understandable, but they are never an excuse. So, yes, I commend Doc for always being willing to reassess and update based on new information. Humanity is meant to adapt to new information and that is the right course of action here.

    As a second point, which also goes to the heart of the moral of this particular blog topic, is the very American core value of redemption. As humans, we are all imperfect and capable of losing our emotional balance and of making regrettable mistakes in life. Sadly, too many are unable to simply admit or learn from their errors and make the wrong and disreputable choice to double-down on bad behavior.

    Real courage is demonstrated when one can admit their error and sincerely seek any help they need to learn from it and work to not repeat such poor behavior again. True contrition however requires more than words – it requires demonstrable follow-through. More importantly, when such bad behavior has harmed or threatened others, I believe that it also requires the offender to not just improve themselves, but also to make amends to those they’ve wronged or harmed.

    I am always willing to view a Birther in a more human light, provided they can demonstrate the types of behaviors and actions that EARN compassion. If they chose to foolishly double-down on bad behaviors and being unaccountable and irrational @ssholes, then they have only earned well-deserved contempt and mockery.

    RuhRoh: Doc, I do appreciate that you update articles when you feel that you have either [misrepresented] something or [because] new information has become available. In this case the new information, while helpful, does not change my [initial] assessment of the story. Cox openly threatened several people’s lives. He said it was for a larger goal of provoking a civil war at the direction of a [voice] in his head (Satan) [and with] the goal of causing the deaths of a majority of Americans. A court found these threats to be credible enough to [convict] him and psychotic enough to sentence him to some sort of psychiatric therapy. Cox is not mentally healthy at this point. He did threaten people’s lives. He was seditious in his actions. He was convicted in a court of law. The basic facts were correct all along. I will not lose a moment’s sleep, and neither should you.[FIFY. Doc]

  11. avatar
    RuhRoh March 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    Doc, thanks for parsing my Ambien tour of the comments. *hangs head in shame*